Theatre for All

Theatre is one of the world’s oldest forms of entertainment, but in recent years I’d stopped going. My hearing loss was too big a barrier to enjoyment. Now, thanks to technology, I once again have access to theatre, and I’m loving it,

On Easter Sunday afternoon my husband and I went to see The Ferryman, the much acclaimed play by Jez Butterworth that takes place during the Troubles in Ireland. It’s a big cast with many voices. As recently as two years ago the only way I could have seen the play was if the Theater Development Fund had offered an open captioned performance through its Theater Access Program. iStock_000002637313Medium

This Sunday performance was not open captioned. But it was fully accessible to me, for two reasons.

The first is that the theater is owned by the Shubert Organization, which has installed a hearing loop. (For a list of other looped theaters, check out audiologist Louise Levy’s website.) If you have a hearing aid or cochlear implant with a telecoil, all you have to do is change the program to telecoil mode (usually by pushing a button on the earpiece) and the sound will go directly into your ear. If you don’t have a hearing aid with a telecoil, you can use the theater’s headset, which you get at the concierge desk. But really, just go back to your audiologist and ask for a telecoil. It costs almost nothing.

The second reason is captions. My hearing loss is severe enough that the enhanced sound delivered by a hearing loop is sometimes not enough especially in a multi-character play (with Irish accents). Understanding that the loop won’t help everyone, including the signing Deaf, many theaters usually also offer a handheld captioning device called I-Caption. Captions are also availably for your own phone or tablet from GalaPro. For I-Caption, you pick up the device at the concierge desk and drop it off when you leave.  It’s important to remember that captions are not available on I-Caption or GalaPro until four weeks after the show’s opening.

For the second act, I switched to GalaPro. This time I methodically set the captions up during the intermission, so they were ready to go as the curtain rose. The captions were almost perfectly synced to the dialogue and I barely missed a word from that point on.  Given the fast dialogue, Irish accents, and the need for sheer listening stamina (the play is three-plus hours), my guess is that I heard, and retained, more than most of the people in the theater. The combination of sound via the loop and sight via the captions may have made me the best hearing person in the theater.

The GalaPro app is free and available for iPhone or Android. You need to be sure you know the correct steps to activate the captions – before the play begins. It’s not difficult to set up, and the concierge desk can help, but don’t wait till the last minute to get started.

You begin by putting your phone into airplane mode and then sign onto the theater’s wifi system. Scroll down the list of shows to the show you’re attending, and fill in the password. This last step is the one that stumped me. What IS my GalaPro password? Turns out you don’t need one. The site actually tells you the password (GalaPro1). But if you wait till the curtain is about to go up before completing the setup, you’ll find yourself literally in the dark and caption-less until intermission. Yes, this has happened to me, more than once.

You can check whether GalaPro is available at the show you want to see by going on TheaterAccessNYC, another useful tool offered by the Theater Development Fund, in this case in partnership with the Broadway League. The website is just one of many TDF services that make Broadway theater accessible to almost all. In addition to open-captioned performances, TDF-TAP also offers ASL-interpretation, accessibility for the blind and for people with disabilities like autism. The TKTS booths (at Lincoln Center, in Times Square, and at the South Street Seaport) sell same-day half-price tickets. TDF also offers special pricing for students, the elderly and many other groups. See here to find out if you qualify for membership.

GalaPro does have limitations, especially in a play with very fast dialogue. I saw Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet last fall, with the magnificent Janet McTeer playing Sarah Bernhardt. The play itself is intricately layered with McTeer playing Bernhardt playing Hamlet. It’s also very very fast. Everyone once in a while GalaPro seemed to take a breather, so I did miss some lines.

I haven’t tried GalaPro at a musical but I imagine the captions have an easier time keeping up, especially with the songs, which inevitably repeat many phrases. I’m seeing Kiss Me Kate later this month, with open captions via TDF-TAP. I’ll keep an eye on GalaPro for comparison.

Meanwhile, the loop can work very well on its own for me. Last week I saw What the Constitution Means to Me, Heidi Schreck’s autobiographical play. I had good seats, with a good sightline to the actors, and thanks to the loop I understood every word.

I’m very lucky to live in New York, where I have easy access to the theater. Until recently, I didn’t go much because it was too hard to hear. Gala Pro, I-Caption, and looping have given me back the theater again.

Meanwhile, here’s a list of looped venues across the country, with thanks to David Myers and Jerry Bergman.


For more about hearing health, my book “Smart Hearing.” will tell you everything I know about hearing loss, hearing aids, and hearing health. Smart Hearing_Cover_highres You can get it online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, in paperback or ebook for Kindle or Nook. You can also ask your library or favorite independent bookstore to order it.

TV Captions – Read Them and Laugh, or Weep

Live TV captioning is terrible! I don’t think anyone would disagree. But caption spoofs also provide some levity during this lengthy and grim election season. And YouTube offers quite a few.

Bouton Blog: Bad TV Captioning
Closed captioning for the hard of hearing can sometimes be bewildering. — Getty Images 


“Bad Lip Reading” is a YouTube channel that takes clips from movies, TV shows and news stories and dubs them with captions that match the speakers’ lips. This is possible because only 40 percent of the sounds of speech are visible on the lips. The letters b, p and m , when spoken, look exactly the same. This is why you generally need at least a bit of hearing – as well as attention to the speaker’s facial expressions and to the context of the sentence – to read lips at all accurately.

It’s also why they are so easy to spoof by dubbing in what seem like the words the candidates are saying by the movement of their lips.

Bad Lip Reading created this version of the first Republican Debate It’s been watched more than 18 million times —  quite a few of them by me because I laugh every time I watch it. The first Democratic Debate: is equally funny but has only about 8 million views. Does this say something about YouTube viewers?

Or you might enjoy “DEBATE NIGHT!” — A Bad Lip Reading of the first 2016 Presidential Debate

Or, if you’d prefer more poetic reflective humor, take a look at “PRESIDENTIAL POETRY SLAM” — A Bad Lip Reading of the Second Presidential Debate

For people with hearing loss, those laughs sometimes come when we don’t want them — namely from the bewildering closed captioning that appears on just about any live TV.

It can be a challenge to figure out what these garbled captions mean. In my book, “Shouting Won’t Help,” I listed some examples of captions I have seen in the past:  “The boy ate the bridge.” “Can you hear the garbage?” “He liked to eat morphine.” “Blahmahsan boar genie” – this last meant to be Lamborghini.

More often, you can’t even see the captions because they overlap with the network’s own on-screen information, like a speaker’s name and title. Sometimes if the speaker has a heavy accent, the network provides its own captions, which overlap with the TV set’s captions.  And networks like MSNBC and CNN put so much other written information on the screen, that reading captions becomes impossible.

TV closed captioning was developed for those who are deaf or hard of hearing to give them full access to programming. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules  on captioning quality require that captions be:
•  Accurate: Captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue and convey background noises and other sounds to the fullest extent possible.
•  Synchronous: Captions must coincide with their corresponding spoken words and sounds to the greatest extent possible and must be displayed on the screen at a speed that can be read by viewers.
•  Complete: Captions must run from the beginning to the end of the program to the fullest extent possible.
•  Properly placed: Captions should not block other important visual content on the screen, overlap one another or run off the edge of the video screen.
The rules distinguish between pre-recorded, live, and near-live programming and explain how the standards apply to each type of programming, recognizing the greater hurdles involved with captioning live and near-live programming.
The problem is that the rules are not enforced. The FCC requires caption accuracy, but if you watch any live TV – news, sports – you will know that they are often woefully incorrect.
As for being synchronous, captions usually lag 3 to 5 seconds or more behind what the speaker is saying.
In addition, when the caption system runs into a problem, it repeats the same nonsensical garble over and over again and then finally quits.
And, as I noted above, most captions are at the bottom of the screen, where they compete for space with information on the person speaking, or a running news tape, as many cable channels have. Try deciphering the captions in all of that.
On the other hand, judging by some of the insults being flung during the final weeks of this campaign, perhaps it is better that we don’t know exactly what some people are saying.

The post first appeared on AARP Health on November 3, 2016.

Living Better jpeg

Katherine Bouton is the author of “Living Better With Hearing Loss: A Guide to Health, Happiness, Love, Sex, Work, Friends … and Hearing Aids,” and a memoir, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You”. Both available on